Saturday, February 27, 2010


I was sitting on the bus on my way home this afternoon and as the bus turned onto the transitway, it got me thinking about human powered vehicles and roads.
The city of Ottawa has a dedicated transitway for buses and emergency vehicles only. Private vehicles are not permitted on the transitway and hefty fines await drivers of regular ol' cars if they are spotted zooming along. The dedicated transitway is clearly signposted as such and it would only be the truly blind or otherwise oblivious driver who didn't know they had trespassed on private property. In the ten some odd years we've lived in Ottawa, I can count on one hand the number of times drivers of private cars had been caught on the transitway.

But, back to my trip home today. As I almost always do when I am on the bus, I time the trip and note the route taken. From downtown Ottawa, it's a simple matter of taking one bus to the end of the line, getting out and walking the few hundred metres to my front door. That normally takes about twenty minutes plus or minus breakdowns (rare) passengers who want to chat up the driver (fairly regular occurrence) or people trying to wedge ginormous strollers/child's nursery onto the bus (a little too frequently). But, with ticket prices going up (do they ever go down? Anywhere? At all? Ever?) even my once a week trek via OCTranspo into town may become too rich for my blood. Luckily, with spring coming soon, the possibility of taking my trike into town becomes that much more likely...

...except that I still have to share the road with cars and many of them are driven by people who are late, in a rush or otherwise distracted and who certainly do not want to have to contend with a trike on the road. A catrike sits low on the road with only a tall(ish) flag to warn other vehicles on the road of our existence. We're more than willing to share the road with cars just as many car drivers are willing to share the road with us. However, even forgetting the odd %$#*&()% who would just as soon see us evaporate, accidents can and do happen and it's always the cyclist who pays the price. After all, we don't have 'x' kilos of metal and fibreglass protecting us and no matter how slowly any accident takes place, the forces involved are always extreme for cyclists - and in too many cases just plain lethal.

For some cyclists here in Ottawa, their particular solution involves riding their bikes on the sidewalks but that is against the law. Sidewalks are for pedestrians and strollers not for cyclists. We have bike paths that wind their way throughout the city but I tend to see them as touring trails that may or may not just take you to where you need to go.

What this city, if not this country, really really needs is a network of cycle paths that are in no way connected to the regular roads; just like the transitway for buses, ambulances, fire and police vehicles. Nobody has a shrieking bloody fit with that system so why not create something like that for cyclists? That is what was on my mind on my way home today.

I smiled as I thought about distinct lanes, perhaps separated by a concrete barrier (think downtown Montreal), with small traffic lights and street/destination signs. I imagined riding up, say, Bank Street, away from the steady rumbling of vehicular traffic, and on my way downtown. I could even see a destination sign saying, "Slater St., Albert St., Queen St., next left". There are already small stop signs on some of the bike paths here so it's not as though this would be such a new thing. It takes me about an hour and 40 minutes to walk uptown and about 35 minutes to trike the same distance. Not as fast as the bus but, believe it or not, faster than a car. I have heard friends tell me similar sorts of stories so I don't think this is my own personal bias towards human powered vehicles sneaking in.

What is lacking is, I feel, the appropriate infrastructure (read: real estate) and the political will to change things.

Oh, but what a positive impact such changes would have overall. Keeping cars and cycles apart is good for everyone's nerves. Having dedicated bike lanes throughout the city and set up for residents and not just tourists, would encourage cycle commuting, reduce our dependence on cars, improve our overall physical fitness levels and allow us to just generally slow our lives down.

When our lives slow down, our ability to think clearly can only improve. Rather than angrily focusing on "getting there", we can actually enjoy the trip. Staying active can help us to sleep better, too (I know I always sleep well after a good day's activity) so we may be less inclined to perform poorly at work.

The benefits I can list are extensive but it is something I do think a lot about. Hey, I can dream...or muse as the case may be even after I pull the bell to get out at the next stop...

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